By Debbie Craig

2016 has started with some exciting opportunities and some really tough challenges. A serious drought, a sliding Rand, a concerning global economic outlook and local political decisions and tensions are causing much uncertainty and impacting our economic stability and credibility. Simultaneously we continue to explore new business opportunities, alliances and emerging markets that rise out of the volatile conditions. We also forge ahead with internal performance and efficiency drives to streamline our activities and optimise our assets and our talent.

In good times it is easier to talk about engaging, investing in, growing and retaining talent. We know that identifying and developing our key talent and building a talent pipeline for our succession needs is critical for sustained business success. We also recognise that higher engagement levels (from great leaders, a great culture, great careers and great rewards) result in higher performance, higher profits and higher retention.

In tough times however, our instincts are to hunker down, fight the immediate fires and focus on saving costs and squeezing out any income available. We freeze any initiatives that are not “core” to the business or money-making and spend our time in emergency meetings and managing the change and uncertainty as best we can to avoid wide spread panic. These “non-core” initiatives often include any people or talent related activities that are considered less urgent and can be post-poned till things ease up.

The risks of this approach may not be immediately visible. There is a longer term but significant impact on the business.

  • Your key talent are the most mobile and are the first to jump ship if there career and culture needs are not met. They move to more certain environments where they fee valued and gain a sense of career progression.
  • Your core talent, when ignored and de-prioritised, disengage, reduce their level of commitment and wait for an opportunity to leave when the market picks up. The psychological contract has been broken.
  • Your non-performers, do just enough to remain under the radar and wait for the “noise” to pass.

In tough times, we need to find creative ways to reduce costs AND continue to engage all our talent in navigating the changing circumstances as part of a larger team and purpose.

7 Tips to Managing Talent in Tough Times

  1. Know who your key and core talent is

Use talent segmentation tools to identify your key talent that brings exceptional performance, innovation and leadership ability (now and in the future) to the team. Understand and acknowledge your core talent that keep the operations running smoothly and delivering on your time, quality and cost measures. View key talent as key customers. Identify, understand, woo, communicate, listen and show appreciation.

  1. Engage talent through talent conversations

Invest the time to engage with your key talent and discover their key drivers, motivators and aspirations. This time shows them that they are important, listened to and appreciated. This also allows you to customise workplace and learning experiences to meet some or most of their needs. Most importantly it facilitates a good honest discussion of options, choices and constraints and manages expectations in a realistic but win-win manner.

  1. Continue with creative development

Development does not have to cost a lot of money. In fact, research shows that the most effective development happens on the job whilst tacking a new role, project, region or team. A 70/20/10 recipe is recommended to see results through learning.

  • 70% on-the-job (stretch goals, projects, secondments, lateral moves)
  • 20% learning through others (coaching, mentoring, working with experts or teams)
  • 10% formal learning (qualification, studies, programs)

Involve your whole team in creative sessions to explore how you can all help each other fast-track your learning in this uncertain and complex environment.

  1. Encourage a self-driven learning ethos

High performance companies spend time building a learning culture where everyone is encouraged to be intensely curious, thirsty for learning, open to ideas and feedback, interested in sharing what they learn and self-driven in fulfilling their learning needs. Leaders can then support and accelerate the learning journey through coaching support, contacts and resources where required. There are so many free or low cost learning resources on-line, that not having money should never be a reason for not learning and growing in these times.

  1. Make time for strategic talent reviews

Even in difficult times, our ability to make strategic decisions about our talent should not be compromised. Executives need to decide who they are going to invest in, place in strategic, high leverage positions, help them innovate, develop as a successor or cross-pollinate ideas into another division. Strategic talent moves can significantly increase the ability to manage a crisis and ensure a cadre of great talent is ready when the crisis passes to capitalise on change opportunities, faster than competitors.

  1. Manage change and uncertainty consciously

In times of high change, it is critically important to keep the communicating channels open. Plan your communication and engagement sessions carefully and regularly to keep your leaders and employees informed. Even if the answers are not clear, the process of discovering the answers can be shared, and giving the surety that the leaders are doing what they can to ensure a sustainable future. Warm communication with opportunity for input and questions is far more effective than a cold e.mail or newsletter. You need both.

  1. Remember that everyone has talent

Lastly, we sometimes forget about our junior, younger or lower level employees. Everyone has potential and talent which, if identified, encouraged, developed and channelled can make a significant different to performance, culture and results. Continue to believe in the best of everyone, give the benefit of the doubt, take some risks to let people show what they are capable of, and encourage self-insight and self-development at all levels.

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